What teachers aren't learning about assessment

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Our preview glimpse into what teacher candidates are learning about assessment quantifies (for the first time) the magnitude of a long suspected problem. Before going into the classroom, teacher candidates' exposure to the task of assessing student learning, including how to interpret results and better plan instruction, is pretty thin--and that includes helping teachers do a better job designing their own pop quizzes, tests and exams.

Looking at 180 elementary and secondary undergraduate and graduate programs across the country, we found only six programs--that's 3 percent--that appear to provide sufficient coverage of assessment--probably not a surprise to school superintendents or principals, nor apparently to the field of teacher education itself.

The only silver lining after examining syllabi for nearly 500 courses as well as "capstone" assignments required of student teachers was that at least some portion of institutions is exposing teachers to the language of assessment (21 percent). However, almost none of them is exposing candidates to the means of analyzing test results (2 percent) or, even more importantly, coming up with an instructional plan once they've done so (1 percent).

What did it take for an institution to earn a high rating? Not much. In each of the three domains of assessment knowledge we examined, we only sought evidence of a single lecture and a couple of practice assignments.

Moreover, we were not, as some bloggers have asserted, narrowly focused on only standardized assessments. The problem is that teachers aren't getting a solid grounding in even the noncontroversial area of learning how to interpret and use results from their own tests. Taking standardized tests out of the equation altogether shifted our positive ratings by only a few percent.

NCTQ's mission is to ensure that every student has an effective teacher, and we are strong supporters of traditional teacher preparation because it must be an integral part of efforts to produce better teachers. We care about improving teacher preparation--not simply evaluating it.